About Rare Indian Plants

Overview

India is a treasure trove of indigenous plants, plus plants that came from around the world through the years. In most cases, botanists have compiled useful background information about these plants that is readily available in print and online. Of special interest is information about rare plants and efforts to save those that are on the brink of extinction.

Rediscovery

In 2006, botanists working in a tropical forest in India's Upper Subansiri district of Arunchal Pradesh rediscovered a rare medicinal plant commonly called rebe. According to the scientific journal, "Current Science," which reported the finding, ethnic tribes used the herbaceous plant to treat stomach and dehydration conditions and to ward off leeches. The previous sighting of Begonia tessaricarpa was more than a century before. The British scientist, C.B. Clark, listed the plant in 1879 and 1890.

Export Prohibition

Among the endangered plants of India is balanophora, a predominantly parasitic plant that grows on tree roots in Himalayan forests. The most prevalent of the 15 species is Balanophora fungosa, which grows commonly in about 25 host plant species. Balanophora secures itself to the host plants underground via tuber-like attachments. Small flowers characterize the balanophora, which develop underground inflorescences that rupture when they appear above ground. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species lists balanophora, prohibiting its export from India.

Indian Pipe

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) has a long list of common names, including ghost flower, corpse plant, ghost pipe, Dutchman's pipe, ice plant, fairy smoke, eyebright, convulsion weed and fit root. The Indian pipe is a ghostly white, although sometimes it is also pinkish. Its waxy appearance is due to the lack of chlorophyll and photosynthesis. It has no branches, and in place of traditional leaves there are scales. Each stem produces just one flower, usually blooming in July and August. The Indian pipe is parasitic, tapping into the tree-fungus nutrient system that is common in areas of dense forests. Indian pipe is very fragile, and picking it may cause it to turn black or die.

Water Lily

In 2009, a leading Indian botanist, Professor Pramod Tandon, indicated that a rare species of lotus, Nymphaea tetragona, which is technically a water lily, was in danger of extinction. Efforts to propagate the lotus failed to produce the desired results. Nymphaea tetragona grows exclusively in a pond on private land in India's northeastern state of Meghalaya. There are hopes that seeds from the flowering plant may assist future micro-propagation work.

Conservation

A Wildlife Institute of India paper entitled "Conservation of a Rare Lady's Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium cordigerum D. Don) in Uttarakhand, Western Himalaya," called for urgent action to ensure the survival of this orchid plant in its natural habitat in India's Uttarakhand state. The 2009 paper cites lopping of trees and grazing cattle as factors leading to the destruction of the plant's natural habitat.

Keywords: rare Indian plants, Begonia tessaricarpa, Indian pipe plant

About this Author

Based in Northern California, Maureen Katemopoulos has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years. Her articles on travel, the arts, cuisine and history have appeared in publications such as "Stanislaus Magazine," "Orientations," "The Asia Magazine" and "The Peninsula Group Magazine." She holds a Baccalaureate degree in journalism from Stanford University.